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On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Jay Wilkinson, CEO of Firespring, joins us to discuss the attributes of a powerful and engaging nonprofit website.

Full Transcript:

Steven: Hey, there. Welcome to this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks for joining us. This is Steven, as always, I’m your host. And I’m joined today by Jay Wilkinson. He is the CEO over at Firespring. Awesome company, actually one of our closest partners over here at Bloomerang. Jay, how’s it going? Thanks for being here.

Jay: Doing great. Thank you.

Steven: And I know you just got back from a vacation. Sorry it was scheduled so close. Hopefully, you’ll be able to hang out with us and not be too jet lagged. What are you guys up to over at Firespring? Maybe you could tell folks what you guys do over there.

Jay: Well, we are in the business of helping nonprofit organizations exclusively with their websites and all of the tools they use surrounding their website. So in addition to just having their online presence, tools like e-mail marketing and online applications that’ll allow them to take money and, more importantly, manage registration. Which is the number one thing people, constituents are asking for from their nonprofits, the ability to seamlessly be able to register for their special events online. So all of those tools packaged together.

Steven: Cool. Cool. And you guys make really beautiful websites for sure. And one of my favorite things about you guys is that you’re a lot like us. We do a lot of educational content and we’ve even spoken at events together. You guys have a great blog. You have all this great educational information about what nonprofits should do for their website. And one thing you say is a nonprofit website should be really powerful and really engaging. Could you kind of break that down for us and tell us a little about what you mean by kind of powerful and engaging in terms of a website?

Jay: Yeah, we’ve done a lot of research. We’ve actually had more than, at this point, more than a thousand constituents in focus group rooms asking them that question. If I were a donor of, or a donor for, or a volunteer for, or a board member, whatever, my relationship with a nonprofit, what could that nonprofit do with their web presence to compel me to engage with them in some kind of meaningful way? And through the course of that research we put together five really key breakdown steps.

The first one is structure, how the website is organized and how you navigate through it. The second one is design. That’s basically how the website looks and feels. And it should evoke a certain emotion. People just get it. They should understand who the organization is right away. It’s not about making it fancy or spectacular or parallax design where one image morphs into another. That doesn’t matter. Make it so that it’s easy. It’s designed in a way that makes it easy for me to get it, to understand who you are and what you’re about.

Then the third element is content. And of course, it’s king these days. It has been from the beginning. But content is mostly about today, having your website on a content managing system so that it’s really easy and seamless to get information in your website. And that multiple people . . . We believe that every nonprofit should have three or more people from that organization that have the ability to update and modify the content on their website. So that’s really key.

And then the fourth is functionality. That’s really where you get down to all the essential tools that a nonprofit needs, the functional tools that really allow me to interact and engage with the nonprofit in a meaningful way. And that’s where I mentioned event registration is the big one, the ability to take online donations, the ability for me to comment, interact, and engage in a way that goes deeper than an online brochure, which is the way most nonprofit websites are

[structured].

Steven: Right.

Jay: Fifth and final is vitality. We discovered this years ago. The magic formula for making every website feel like it has this amazing drawing power that you want to come back to time and time again. And it comes down to the simple practice of having dated content on your front page a minimum of once a week with at least three occurrences showing.

You have three occurrences of dated content showing on the front page of your website and it’s updated minimum of once per week. When I come to the website it’s like the Jedi mind trick. You’re website, it makes me feel like everything here must be updated all the time.

Steven: Right.

Jay: We have stats that show over the last ten years that the wide growth in recurring visitors or repeat traffic, people coming back to the website when they feel like there’s something new all the time.

Steven: Yeah. That makes sense.

Jay: Whether or not that you have something really amazing with your blog, at least give that impression. Give that feeling that content is constantly evolving.

Steven: Yeah. Absolutely. I’m interested in the vitality thing. I want to step away from that just real quick. Because it seems like the third thing, the CMS, the content management system, it seems like that’s super important for nonprofits, because I’ve been involved with nonprofits and I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories as well where maybe somebody’s nephew made the website and now they’re locked out of it and we can’t update it and now we’re just kind of stuck. Has that been your experience? I’m guessing you’ve run into at least one organization.

Jay: Yeah. We’ve get a lot of horror stories like that. This is kind of an alarming statistic actually. The average nonprofit organization in the United States today has to re-start their web presence, has got to build from scratch between every two to two and a half years on average.

Steven: Wow.

Jay: And that’s largely due to what you just mentioned. It’s the 14-year-old, genius nephew of the executive director who builds the websites. And even if it’s not that, if they hire a graphic designer who built it in WordPress and then the graphic designer gets busy, life happens, they have a third child or go to college or they get a busier job and they just don’t have time to help anymore. These nonprofits find themselves in this swirling effect where they have to start over every couple of years.

Steven: Yeah.

Jay: That’s the difficulty.

Steven: And this vitality thing, is that blogging, is it just adding newsletter content? What kinds of things should a nonprofit add to their website on a weekly or even daily basis if they’re feeling a little bit more secure in their ability to do that?

Jay: Great question. The most important thing, or the best thing a nonprofit can do, without question, hands down, is to blog. Is to have a once-per-week post that establishes their organization as the thought leader in whatever their cause or their passion is. The idea behind that is that when someone’s talking over the water cooler at work or at the gym or at Starbucks or wherever, and the issue or the topic that that nonprofit supports, Alzheimer’s for example, comes up in conversation, the very next thought out of that person’s mind, should be, “I wonder what X, Y, Z organization thinks of this.” You want to become known as the thought leader in the local community or the region, wherever your nonprofit is based, you want to be known as the thought leader in that space, in that geographic region.

Steven: Right.

Jay: If you can create that, it’s incredibly powerful. But it’s not easy. That’s a difficult challenge. So at the worst case scenario, is you want to have, at the very least, content . . . you could even take the easy way out and spend a couple of hours over the weekend, go to quotegarden.com or wherever and come up with 52 inspirational thoughts of the week all that jive with the mission or the purpose of the organization. And the most novice web developer, the 14-year-old computer genius can set up the website so that it automatically posts every seven days.

Steven: Yeah.

Jay: The worst case to best case scenarios.

Steven: It seems like, and correct me if I’m wrong, that all that research, when someone visits a website that they’re going to give credit card information to or donate to, that’s where the vitality piece comes into play because, “Oh, this is a website that they update regularly. It’s still active.” So that financial information, that seems like that’s going to be more secure. Am I kind of crazy in thinking that?

Jay: No, you’re not crazy at all. That adds a ton of credibility and just comfort with people when they come to the website . . .

Steven: Right.

Jay: . . . part of it.

Steven: So one thing I really like about the Firespring CMS is, you put an emphasis on creating landing pages. And the concept of landing pages I know is maybe a little confusing to folks who aren’t as technical. Can you explain what is a landing page? How is that different from a home page, or just any other page on your website?

Jay: The single, most important thing for a nonprofit, as it relates to their website, in 2015, is landing pages.

Steven: Wow.

Jay: It really is the most important thing for a nonprofit to be thinking about today as it relates to their website. And a landing page, quite simply, a better word for it might be an “action page.” It’s a page that you put on your website that has a very clear, concise, singular call to action, so that when I as an end user come to that website and land on this page, I know exactly what it is that you want me to do as a result of landing on this page. And that’s really all a landing page is. It can be built into the site structure so I can navigate to it through the hierarchy or the menu structure, or it can be standalone and it can be a page that I have to be directed to via a link in an e-mail or an e-mail marketing piece or a QR code even. However you want to do it. But to get people to come to that landing page, the most important thing is that you give them the ability to take action on one thing and make it concise and complete and very easy for me to understand what it is that you want me to do.

Steven: So it could be, like, donate, volunteer, event sign-up, maybe even e-mail sign-up. Those kinds of actions?

Jay: Exactly. Even if it’s just “learn more.” You could have a document that teaches me more about how I can cope with Alzheimer’s if it’s part of my family experience. It doesn’t always have to be something where you’re taking money or having them register for something. You could even be just sharing information with them. We have a webinar specifically on this topic. In that we share, I think, 15 different types of landing pages that nonprofits use.

Steven: Yeah. We’ll link to that, because that’s definitely a good webinar. I’ve definitely seen that. So Jay, you probably see thousands of websites a year, of nonprofit websites. Thinking of those five things that you mentioned, where do you think people, nonprofits specifically, are missing. Is it the vitality area? Is it the CMS area? Where do you think people are really needing the most help and should really focus their efforts on?

Jay: The one that is least often well done, without question, but yet it’s the simplest, is the vitality component. There are so many that have, even organizations that have a lot of content, even if they added a lot of fresh content to their website, they’re not adding it in a way allows the people coming to the website to know that it’s being added. Having this dated content in a stream where you can see the dates. And it’s such a simple, simple fix. The reason I bring that up being that they may lack the most is because it’s easy to accomplish if you just build your website properly

Steven: Right.

Jay: That I would say is the biggest issue without question that makes the most impact, that you brought up, which is the content management system, the content itself. Having the ability to update and modify your content with simple point-and-click, drop-and-drag access so that it’s not complicated. And to call a spade a spade, or the biggest issue, there is WordPress. WordPress is a fantastic, fantastic product for blogs. It’s great for blogging. But when nonprofits started going down this road because we’re always trying to do more with less. We’ve heard that expression a million times. Have to do more with less. Have to do more with less. So we end up using free, or nearly free tools like WordPress to build our websites, and it’s not easy using WordPress for the common, non-technical person to go in and make updates to their website. It’s not drop-and-drag simple.

Steven: Right.

Jay: And so that’s become a really big part of the challenge that nonprofits have is this. So when you’re using WordPress, it is difficult when you’re using tools like that to seamlessly and simply update and modify content and information.

Steven: Yeah. Even that can cause a lot of problems, like if somebody’s nephew does it. That can still be locked out of. Because everything you’ve said, it’s true. It’s somewhat easy to use, but there’s a lot of things that you may want to be able to do that a non-technical person wouldn’t really be able to jump in there. And then it seems like there’s some security issues with WordPress occasionally as well.

Jay: Yeah, there definitely are.

Steven: Well, I think everyone should have a Firespring website for sure. You guys do awesome, awesome work. I love the CMS. Check them out if you need a website, if you’ve got maybe an old website or you think it might be time for something to, you know, a refresher of your current site. Check these guys out. Jay, where can people find out more about Firespring and all the great content you guys put out?

Jay: It’s very simple, just go to firespring.org.

Steven: Right on. Cool. Well Jay, this was awesome having you. We’ll link to all that. Thanks for being here. Thanks for jazzing with us about nonprofit websites. This is fun.

Jay: You’re welcome. Thank you for the invitation and I will say, as we’re wrapping up here that we have a lot of partners and companies that we partner with and Bloomerang is at the top of our list among our partners

Steven: Ah, stop it.

Jay: We enjoy the relationship we have with the integration of our products. It’s something that we are really excited about.

Steven: That’s right. They do integrate. So if you get a Firespring website, you get a nice database too.

Jay: Yeah, all put together.

Steven: Well, cool. Thanks, Jay. And thanks to all of you for hanging out for 15 minutes or so. We’ll catch you next week with another awesome topic on Bloomerang TV. So we’ll see you then.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.
Kristen Hay